1870'sThe reservoir was started and dirt needed for the banks was provided when workers excavated the lagoon. The “G” shape of the lagoon honored Dr. Elias Glick, who was mayor of Lafayette at the time. The area was known as Reservoir Park and Glick Lake.
The park was renamed in 1892 to “Columbian Park” after the Chicago World’s Fair. The fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. The park officially opened in 1893. Rush Pavilion and the original boathouse were constructed in 1899.
Columbian Park Zoo was founded. The Zoo’s original animal collection included the following:
• Prairie dogs
The Zoo’s main Animal House was constructed. One of the earliest occupants was Linco, an elephant purchased from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in Peru, Indiana. Nearly 10,000 school students in Lafayette and West Lafayette raised more than $2,000 toward the elephant’s purchase. Lincoln School students exceeded their fundraising quota and earned the honor of renaming the elephant from Ruth to Linco.
1930's - 50's
In the 1930s, the Zoo bred many animals for sale to other small zoos. By 1943, the Columbian Park Zoo housed lions, monkeys, elk, leopards, an elephant, zebras, bears, and nine alligators. A chimpanzee named Buddy called the Columbian Park Zoo home in the 1950’s. He could often be found driving the train through Columbian Park.
Friends of Columbian Park Zoo (FOCPZ) was formed to advocate support and raise money for the Zoo. Friends is a not-for-profit organization and has been involved in many projects for the Zoo. FOCPZ sponsors many successful events each year, including the popular Boo at the Zoo, Zoo Run Run, and a juried wildlife art show.
During this decade, the Zoo saw some significant growth. Several new exhibits included:
• Free-flight aviary
• Prairie Dog Town
• Large Cats
• Birds of Prey
In addition, the Zoo’s education department expanded to offer a variety of programs promoting conservation and the environment. In 1988, a large walk-through bird aviary was added to the existing Columbian Park Zoo. The Zoo had acquired so many bird species that this extra space was desperately needed to showcase and hold them.
In the late 1990's the City of Lafayette revealed a grand Master Plan for a new and improved Columbian Park Zoo. This plan was developed through significant community input and placed an emphasis on education and becoming a recreational destination for Greater Lafayette residents and visitors. Proposed improvements included a discovery center, naturalized exhibits, and the return of a carousel.
Groundbreaking ceremonies took place late in the year as the zoo closed and Phase One of the Master Plan began.
Columbian Park Zoo reopened to the public on June 30, 2007. Completed exhibits included the:
- IU Health Arnett Family Farm,
- Aerie #347 Bald Eagle Exhibit,
- Prairie Dog Town sponsored by Alcoa Foundation, Kirby Risk Corporation and the Risk Family Foundation,
- Wal-Mart Butterfly Sculpture Garden,
- Interactive Fountain Entryway Plaza sponsored by The McAllister Foundation.
Since 2007, several additional exhibits and structures have been added:
- Entryway Canopy sponsored by Friends of Columbian Park Zoo
- Butterfly Exhibit sponsored by Lawn & Shrub Incorporated
- Wallaby Walkabout sponsored by Tippecanoe Laboratories
- Galapagos Tortoise Exhibit sponsored by Friends of Columbian Park Zoo
- Giant Tortoise bronze sculpture sponsored by the James K. Risk Family
- Owl Exhibit sponsored by Subaru of Indiana Automotive and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America
- North American River Otter Exhibit sponsored by Wabash National Corporation
- Bronze otter sculpture sponsored by the James K. Risk Family,
- The Bill and Donna DeFouw Education Center.
The Master Plan is becoming a reality. Support from the citizens of Greater Lafayette will create a place to learn about wildlife and conservation, and Columbian Park Zoo will provide those same citizens with lasting family memories.